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Still Dreaming of Jerusalem

Shlomi Gil

When the Nazi sneered that he’d be dead before ever seeing Jerusalem, Binyamin Werzberger knew that one day against all odds, he would yet stand next to those holy stones of the Kosel. And for the past two decades he’s been in charge of cleaning the world’s most precious wall, outliving his tormenter’s curse and feeling more blessed than ever.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

If you see an elderly man in a dapper suit looking like the host of the Kosel next time you visit, go up to him and shake his hand. He isn’t looking for money or even kavod; he’s the self-appointed service person of the Western Wall, there to help out any worshipper who needs assistance. Because for Binyamin Werzberger, 89, it’s about a vow he made to his Nazi oppressor more than 70 years ago. Werzberger was already retired when he walked over to the offices of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the Jerusalem organization responsible for the maintenance of the Kosel area, offering his services. They were a bit skeptical of this retiree, but in the end offered him what was available — to clean the stones of the Kosel plaza every day, sweeping away the fallen notes (they are put in a special genizah) and make sure the area would look neat and presentable for the thousands of worshippers that arrive each day. He readily agreed, and for the past 20 years was on the site every morning at 5:30 a.m. (“I never look at my watch when I’m here,” he says.) He couldn’t have been happier, knowing he’d vanquished the memory of that tormentor who sneered as his jackboot came down on young Binyamin’s head: “Still dreaming of Jerusalem, filthy Jew? Maybe your ashes will merit to see your precious Jerusalem through the smoke of your burning corpse!” Now a combination of advanced age and a leg injury have ended the daily Kosel tenure, but although he’s no longer salaried, he still makes it his business to visit the Kosel once a week to welcome both the steadies and first-time visitors who come to the site. Werzberger knows every corner and crevice and is intimately familiar with the ancient underground labyrinth revealed by the Kosel Tunnel excavations, but while those primeval stones have endured through the centuries, the area today is nothing like it was the first time he approached the holy site in 1947 after years of imprisonment and near death — and in defiance of the Nazi’s curse.

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